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    Transhumanism - Ray Kurzweil And The Singularity
    By Gerhard Adam | September 3rd 2009 02:11 PM | 28 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    I've been trying to figure out why "transhumanists" and their predictions irritate me so much.  Perhaps it's seeing humanity reduced to a simplistic engineering problem to be solved.  Or maybe it's the love affair that appears to be happening between them and technology.  Or maybe it's the fact that they all sound like psychics, except that their subject is the human race instead of an individual. Back in July, Massimo Pigliucci addressed some of the problems with transhumanism, however it seems that this is a rather persistent idea. The following quotes all come from a paper by Ray Kurweil where he addresses his vision of "The Singularity"(1) coming.

    Whatever else it is, it seems that I can't help but feel that transhumanists aren't taking their subject very seriously and that whatever insights they may legitimately have are overshadowed by their complete lack of respect for life. This is aptly exemplified by Ray Kurzweil and his thoughts on the coming Singularity.

    "For inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, being human with limited intelligence and doomed biology was never good enough."
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20227076.200-ray-kurzweil-a-singular-view-of-the-future.html

    Doomed biology?  Limited intelligence?  Based on what?

    It would seem that it is these pronouncements which lead me to conclude that the transhumanist view of human biology is that of an engineering problem that needs fixing.  Even the basic problem of defining intelligence isn't addressed.  But without knowing what intelligence actually is, how can we know what it means to have more of it?  It's always presumed that this would be a good thing, but how can we even know?

    What is all of this based on?  Chip design and manufacture.  Apparently computer chips are the ultimate salvation of humans and it is this technology which will foster in a "golden age" of human existence that we can't begin to imagine.  Fortunately for us, there are some that can imagine it and are prepared to dive headlong into making predictions about how this will provide future solutions (for an as yet to be described problem).

    "Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to The Singularity -- technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light."
    http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0134.html?printable=1

    I find statements like this lacking in the most fundamental understanding of what it means to be human and of biology.  Surely these "transhumanists" can't be so naive as to believe that a true intelligent machine with superior intellect will be content to simply serve humans?  I'm not invoking some classic Hollywood imagery, but the reality of biological evolution clearly states that no species will sacrifice for the survival of another.  If true machine intelligence should ever be achieved, then make no mistake, it would be the creation of a new non-biological species and all that entails.

    Even the implications of merging biology and nonbiological intelligence and "immortal software-based humans" brings to mind all manner of horrific outcomes and frankly reeks of a technology based eugenics program. What would it mean to have a million, or ten million, or a hundred million people that have had such a "conversion" contrasted with the billions that haven't?  Are we to assume that we'll all just wait patiently in line for our "upgrade" before life continues?  I suspect most of us already have a strong inkling of how such scenarios have played out historically.

    The response to these concerns is equally telling:

    "My view is that the likely outcome is that on the one hand, from the perspective of biological humanity, these superhuman intelligences will appear to be their transcendent servants, satisfying their needs and desires. On the other hand, fulfilling the wishes of a revered biological legacy will occupy only a trivial portion of the intellectual power that the Singularity will bring."
    http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0134.html?printable=1

    So apparently it's going to be fine that these super-intelligent machines will be quite content to be our servants and that our "revered biological legacy" is so trivially unimportant that it will occupy only a tiny portion of our own vast intellects.

    One problem that is already apparent is the complete lack of understanding regarding intelligence:

    "Before addressing this issue, it is important to note that once a computer achieves a human level of intelligence, it will necessarily soar past it. A key advantage of nonbiological intelligence is that machines can easily share their knowledge. If I learn French, or read War and Peace, I can't readily download that learning to you. You have to acquire that scholarship the same painstaking way that I did. My knowledge, embedded in a vast pattern of neurotransmitter concentrations and interneuronal connections, cannot be quickly accessed or transmitted. But we won't leave out quick downloading ports in our nonbiological equivalents of human neuron clusters. When one computer learns a skill or gains an insight, it can immediately share that wisdom with billions of other machines."
    http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0134.html?printable=1

    The author clearly can't distinguish between intelligence versus data storage. How does the process of learning and developing ideas and opinions occur when everything is simply treated as a data storage problem?  One doesn't read War and Peace as an act of memorization, but rather to absorb the ideas and to formulate thoughts about the story. To treat learning as if it is simply an act of downloading information is foolishness.

    "A computer can also remember billions or even trillions of facts perfectly, while we are hard pressed to remember a handful of phone numbers. The combination of human level intelligence in a machine with a computer's inherent superiority in the speed, accuracy, and sharing ability of its memory will be formidable."
    http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0134.html?printable=1

    This is where things get really out of hand by suggesting that computers can "remember" anything.  The computer "remembers" phone numbers in the same way the phone book does.  To suggest otherwise is either disingenous or ignorant. As for accuracy, someone of Mr. Kurzweil's background should know better.  Since computers are incapable of assessing ANYTHING they process, they can only produce results consistent with what was stored in the first place.  

    Of course, this leads to the next abuse of technology which is to suggest that such machine intelligence can be derived by reverse engineering the brain.  This simply suggests that the brain is viewed as a piece of hardware without regard for anything that it actually contains.  

    This finally degenerates into the ultimate fantasy; what to do about our physical bodies:

    "There are a variety of bodies that we will provide for our machines, and that they will provide for themselves: bodies built through nanotechnology (i.e., building highly complex physical systems atom by atom), virtual bodies (that exist only in virtual reality), bodies comprised of swarms of nanobots, and other technologies."

    "Is this really me? For one thing, old biological Ray (that's me) still exists. I'll still be here in my carbon-cell-based brain. Alas, I will have to sit back and watch the new Ray succeed in endeavors that I could only dream of."
    http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0134.html?printable=1

    One can't help but wonder where the reliability in software is going to magically appear from.  The mind boggles at the incentives created at the possibility of "hacking" into someone's brain.  Of course, this begs a more fundamental question.  Will such superhuman intelligences paired with humans be content with the jobs that still need to get done?  After all, not every job involves quantum mechanics.  Why bother going to school, when we can just implant our 5-year old with all the knowledge they'll ever need.

    I guess we'll all end up sitting around making fun of Einstein.

    Welcome to the future.

    (1) The singularity is what will happen when an explosive advance in technology unexpectedly leaves us humans behind
    http://www.newscientist.com/blog/technology/2008/06/how-to-spot-technological-singularity.html

    Comments

    Hank
    And the whole thing is lacking a basic marketing clue.   I asked them for a press pass to the October event about 3 weeks ago or more and never heard anything back.

    Which leads me to believe their conference, and probably the whole movement, is just a money-making scam rather than actual substance.

    Oh well, it worked for L. Ron Hubbard.
    Gerhard Adam
    There are real believers out there, and I tend to think of them as the technological equivalent of creationists.
    Mundus vult decipi
    It's like a freight train coming down the track. And it is as inevitable as death and taxes, except of course that death itself will be bypassed with this technology.

    Gerhard Adam
    Sorry, but it isn't inevitable and in all likelihood isn't even possible.
    Mundus vult decipi
    intelligence and imagination are just the rearranging of elements. This blog is trying to muddy the water to make
    intelligence seem too deep to undestand. And computers can rearrange the elements quicker because they are sillicon.

    Gerhard Adam
    You can't just get away with using terms like "elements" as if they add meaning to the discussion.  If you can't have a working definition of intelligence that deals with the underlying processes, then you don't know what intelligence is, and so talk about enhancing it is simply wishful thinking. 

    What would you have computers rearrange (regardless of how fast you perceive them to be)? 
    Mundus vult decipi
    im astonished by the magnitude of...say-reverse bs-by transhumanists..why do we even talk 'bout them?
    ps: reverse bs preliminary definition: we dont get it....
    ps1: it seems as if all fields of knowledge are being subverted by some ideology....

    Gerhard Adam
    As with so many things these days, there is little dialogue but a lot of "true believers".  Whether it be political, religious, or some other ideology, almost no one discusses ideas any more as much as they fight for ideologies.
    Mundus vult decipi
    dear ga: d'accord: the fight for ideologies is the zeitgeist of these times..... rather than the fight for ideas... sad state of affairs..kinda funky that reaching-achieving?-the 'tech transition' fills the existencial angst of many when was it is really needed is a 'self-transition'... that doesnt require 500 bucks registration but a 'disambiguation' of human 'nature'.....

    Intelligence is the ability to deal with a broad range of abstraction. Abstraction is the power to seperate
    mentally and make cognitive use of an aspect of reality that cannot exist seperately. In a sense what you are doing is a mental intergation of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted. Maybe I should have used the word "concept" instead of elements. There are other issues like " hierarchy of knowledge" ( which are ranked in order of logical dependence)..
    I got the definition from the "Glossary of Objectivist Definitions"

    I like your comment that "almost no one discusses ideas any more as much as they fight for ideologies". But If you don't anticipate our civilisation culminating in some type of singularity then where *do* you think that we will be in some 50 or 100 years time?

    Everybody trekking off on their morning commute to an office - just that the trains will be a bit plusher and the office sporting OLED screens in place of laptops? The world has changed a lot, just look around and compare our current lives to how the average person spent their days a mere century ago. Do you really believe that the future (by which I mean a 50-100 year time horizon) will just be more of the same again, just with a few more bells and whistles attached?

    We went through the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution, these radically and irrevocably changed the average person's life. Do you think they were just flukes? That there are no more revolutions in store for humanity?

    Seriously though, where do you see us all in 50-100 years then?

    Gerhard Adam
    I envision the future the way it has always turned out.  Radically less than our expectations and completely different from predictions.

    The revolutions you're referring to (agricultural and industrial) were separated by 10,000 years.  I'm sure the Egyptians and Mayas, and other great civilizations all envisioned a future for themselves that was vastly different than what happened. 

    Just in the last 50 years, I've seen humans get to the moon but never go back.  There are no space colonies, there are no futuristic robots in every home.  There are no intelligent machines, there are no flying jet cars.  Bear in mind that every one of these was a FIRM prediction of what was likely to happen during the period in question.  In truth, we're still going to the office with a few more bells and whistles, but life has not substantially changed.

    In truth, we rapidly approaching a point (and in some cases, we're already there) where we have created a society we cannot afford to maintain or sustain.  Many of our technological developments have moved from being benefits to becoming drains on societal resources (i.e. infrastructure).

    There is no doubt that there will be continuing developments of technology with benefits to society, but I don't see a culmination of these efforts in some sort of "revolution".  People in society are becoming increasingly superstitious instead of scientific or technologically savvy.  Even the use of computers has simply resulted in more end-users and few computer experts, so people are not truly becoming knowledgeable about any of these developments.

    I read a statement someplace, I don't recall, that gives one something to contemplate.  To paraphrase, if you were to look at the entire length of humans living on this planet, do you envision us as just beginning our journey through life, or do you have envision it as nearing an end?  You may think that sounds pessimistic, but it is really intended to make you examine where humans have been and where you think they're going (and the odds of getting there).
    Mundus vult decipi
    Winston Smith
    "I'm sure the Egyptians and Mayas, and other great civilizations all envisioned a future for themselves that was vastly different than what happened. Just in the last 50 years, I've seen humans get to the moon but never go back. There are no space colonies, there are no futuristic robots in every home. There are no intelligent machines, there are no flying jet cars. Bear in mind that every one of these was a FIRM prediction of what was likely to happen during the period in question. In truth, we're still going to the office with a few more bells and whistles, but life has not substantially changed." But any of these revolutions pretty much cought us with our pants down. There are people whi insist that we have never been in the moon. There were those who didn't believe in home computers, aeroplanes or nuclear weapons. If you take different example you can get opposite answer. Basicly last two hundred years have changed human life more than previous 10 000 years.
    let me quote at this point, barnett newman, 'fabuluos-to me-american artist, in the "first man was an artist" wrote:
    " Original man, shouting his consonants, did so in yells of awe and anger at his tragic state, at his own self-awareness and at his own helplessness before the void…” lets see how a tech fix-as magical as arthur clarkes' law : "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" can do for human nature....
    also, i agree with hank: , there is money to make.....in a raelian sense? but also consider another of clarkes' laws: "The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible" but clarke was selling anything except good stories-and thereof-movies.

    Maktub
    With all due respect, this article is a precept, and reactionary attempt, for proving Singularity and the core themes of my latest blog post as flawed and that there is are no implications for anything that the theory illustrates.  You might believe I support Singularity and all the follow-ups to its predicted implications for society in our future. But you greatly underestimate my thinking in regards to the issues that this prediction, or plan, brings. In an air similar to Hank Campbell, I believe that this Singularity craze is a money-making, deceptive, f'd up, "I'm frickin' disappointing and worried as shit"-- scam....

    When I contemplate the implications of communication technology in our future, I instantly think how they might affect all future terrains in society; however, I equally understand and believe that advanced communication technologies will bring benefit to the future life of society. Since we will benefit, these dichotomies are mutually exclusive.  I don't think, as least if the current rate remains unchanged, that we're going to be able to stop this benefit. 

    Even though people dislike what the Singularity concept means in terms of the interests of their future, hypocrisy will mistakenly overcome them, and amidst their conditioning and denial they will fail in taking the appropriate means to form a movement that will stop it.

    One part of me thinks that future predictions and advanced technology will only bring bad, but another thinks that some vexation of these ideas will bring me great benefit.  The other part thinks its inevitable. Inevitable because technology creates culture, and this culture we cannot completely control.

    Singularity is the idea, not a reality... yet. You might need to buckle-up.
    Gerhard Adam
    Eric, this article was posted before yours was.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Maktub
    Well let's say you didn't write this article in response to mine. Yes that correct.  The rest of my comment is still something to think about. ...............

    But you might believe I support Singularity and all the follow-ups to its predicted implications for society in our future. And if this is so, you greatly underestimate my thinking in regards to the issues that this prediction, or plan, brings. In an air similar to Hank Campbell, I believe that this Singularity craze is a money-making, deceptive, f'd up, "I'm frickin' disappointing and worried as shit"-- scam....
    When I contemplate the implications of communication technology in our future, I instantly think how they might affect all future terrains in society; however, I equally understand and believe that advanced communication technologies will bring benefit to the future life of society. Since we will benefit, these dichotomies are mutually exclusive.  I don't think, as least if the current rate remains unchanged, that we're going to be able to stop this benefit. 
    Even though people dislike what the Singularity concept means in terms of the interests of their future, hypocrisy will mistakenly overcome them, and amidst their conditioning and denial they will fail in taking the appropriate means to form a movement that will stop it.
    One part of me thinks that future predictions and advanced technology will only bring bad, but another thinks that some vexation of these ideas will bring me great benefit.  The other part thinks its inevitable. Inevitable because technology creates culture, and this culture we cannot completely control.......................................................

    People want super AI, government's want it.  A whole society of people want it. Many people use AI every day on there XBOXs, credit card companies use it. , and our democracy is allowing projects like the Blue Brain to be funded by DARPA at CERN. Without a doubt, technology will go much further, and it will change. It's gunna be a wild ride. Singularity is the idea, not a reality... yet. You might need to buckle up.
    Gerhard Adam
    Many people use AI every day on there XBOXs, credit card companies use it...
    You're being very liberal and kind in your use of the phrase "AI" here.  These aren't even remotely intelligent. 

    The fact is that when you eliminate entertainment, there is little advancement you can describe that represents a change in what people do.  How they do it has certainly changed, but what they do has not.  In addition, even the "how" portion of this has primarily resulted in an economic shift more than a technological shift in terms of what is provided, but it's hardly revolutionary. 

    I don't know whether you accept the concept of the "Singularity" or not and it doesn't really make any difference to me. 

    If I were to consider the most "revolutionary" aspect of technology, I would argue that while it hasn't actually changed much substantively, it has provided a means by which more people have access to processes that previously were beyond their reach.  In other words, the computer can be a great platform for a variety of tasks whether it be writing, calculation, programming, and all manner of work that would have been beyond an individual's ability (in one package) decades ago.  However, it hasn't resulted in more writers or mathematicians or programmers or scientists in general.  The means are there, but it is still just a tool.

    Just as power tools don't transform someone into a carpenter, they can extend the capabilities to more people so that even lesser skills can achieve something.

    As I've said all along.  These changes can be useful, they can be detrimental.  The one thing they are not, is revolutionary.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Thanks Gerhard for responding to my comment. Unfortunately I'm just too busy working and looking after toddlers and babies to be able to get into this in more depth (in my part of the world the Dads have to do a lot of this!)

    A quick response then....
    "The revolutions you're referring to (agricultural and industrial) were separated by 10,000 years"
    Not so according to wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Agricultural_Revolution - the agricultural revolution took place in the 18th century and the industrial revolution occured in the early 19th century - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution. Some might say that we are now overdue for a similar groundbreaking revolution?

    "There are no space colonies, there are no futuristic robots in every home. There are no intelligent machines, there are no flying jet cars. Bear in mind that every one of these was a FIRM prediction of what was likely to happen during the period in question. In truth, we're still going to the office with a few more bells and whistles, but life has not substantially changed."

    Agree with you on the lack of space exploration. We do have robotic vacuum cleaners but they are indeed pretty lame, what has actually happened is that robots have been integrated into factories and increasingly so in the raw material extraction industries. They are not yet safe or cheap enough for home use but our everyday products in the home have relied heavily on robots at various points in their production. Plus, South Korea and Japan are pushing for a robot in every home by 2020 and pouring millions in government grants into "democratising" the robots into private homes especially for the elderly. The tech is here today it's just too expensive and not safe enough yet to be widely distributed but that is on the cusp of changing.
    No intelligent machines and no flying cars but instead we have flying buses called aircraft that can take anyone anywhere on the planet within 24 hours and inexpensively at that. The future in reality is always a little different to the predictions but I would consider the flying buses to be not so very different to flying cars. Regarding intelligent machines, we have slowly handed off more and more of our tasks to machines and when machines can and do handle it we dismiss the task as not really requiring intelligence after all. We have cars that can park themselves for sale today and the tech is already here for cars that can drive themselves (but as you say not in the form of consumer products yet). Finally, most people did not work in offices a century ago and I think it highly unlikely that we will be working in offices in 100 years time.

    "if you were to look at the entire length of humans living on this planet, do you envision us as just beginning our journey through life, or do you have envision it as nearing an end? "
    I would say that you need to reframe the question here, replacing "this planet" with "this universe". Our world is but the most humble starting point for our exploration of the galaxy and then the universe. A lot of people who worry about resource exploitation or unsustainability are quite correct if they just assess the current situation but they also fail to take into account the solutions that already exist in laboratories awaiting mass production e.g solar panels and the fact that we exist not simply on planet earth but as part of the entire universe.

    Also, if you gave me the choice of living like a king two centuries ago or a middle class European today, I and most others would choose the middle class European - we live longer, have better health, immeasurably more entertainment, food, travel, and cultural options. There have never been more millionaires than today and money buys more things and experiences than it ever has before. The cost of basic goods has fallen in real terms (except for property). I see all this as clear evidence that we are on track for the singularity which will lift all of humanity to this level and beyond.

    Final point, I work from home on the computer "telecommuting" these days and I make an average salary doing that. This is my career and it's how I pay the bills. That is my reality and that was simply not possible in my field a decade ago. So the world is changing and it is changing rapidly.

    Gerhard Adam
    ...tech is already here for cars that can drive themselves...
    I wanted to make an additional comment regarding this particular phrase.  This illustrates how completely the point is missed regarding technology and individuals.  The overwhelming majority of people do not feel comfortable when someone, other than themselves, is in control of a potentially dangerous circumstance (of which driving is certainly in the lot).

    This is why many people don't like flying and why many individuals are not comfortable even as passengers in a car when someone else is driving. 

    Regardless of the technology, it would take a very trusting individual to allow a machine to drive a vehicle over long distances which they went to sleep.  While I'm sure there are people that would do it, given the history of technology over the centuries, that will last until there is ONE death.   After that, such vehicles couldn't be given away. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    The agricultural revolution is normally considered the Neolithic revolution because it had the effect of a worldwide change rather than the local impact you described in the British Agricultural Revolution.

    However, many of the technological advances you describe are in place because of economics and not technology.  I suspect you work from home because its cheaper for your company than maintaining office space, which is a trend many companies have followed.  In addition, many companies have also done this to avoid the issues employees experience because of an inadequate road system (i.e. rush hour), so which it certainly represents a generally positive change, it isn't nearly as pervasive as you might think.

    Airline travel as deteriorated dramatically over the years to where it is more akin to shipping cattle than passenger service.  It is expensive and has few frills.  

    In general, many people would argue that the increased technology has reduced customer service by making it harder to talk to people and obtain results.  Instead one ends up in the endless "Press 1" jungle which causes many people to give up in frustration.

    I am quite skeptical about technology simply because it places too much emphasis on the tools and not enough on the people which are the users of such tools.  

    The problem isn't that technology doesn't advance and that it doesn't have an influence, but if we were to examine the last fifty years and you removed all references to entertainment, the biggest technology effect is the web.  There's no doubt that it is influential, but it is often exaggerated in terms of its revolutionary effect instead of recognizing that it is also just an adaptation of existing functions.

    Besides social networking, the web's primary influence is to eliminate trips to the library and the effect it has had on printed media.  While it is significant, how is this revolutionary?

    While many of the improvements you cited (health, food, money,etc.) are partially true, they are also quite specific and don't have nearly the global range you suggest.  The general statement about prosperity is possibly true for the U.S. and Europe, but it hardly applies everywhere.  In addition, there are strong concerns as to whether future generations will actually see increases in this area or whether these countries have already peaked.  Few adults today, even in the U.S. believe that their children will have a more prosperous existence than they have had.
    Mundus vult decipi
    there is something wrong with the system: i get up to 4 alerts/posting and the postings are all over. arent they supposed to appear in sequence?

    Hank
    No, people are replying to various other comments so they are sequenced by topic rather than by time.    But if you click the red 'New' word it will take you to each new comment in time sequence.
    I complately agree with the author, though I see numerous problems with this argumentation. Those problems can be easily used by singularlitarians "to save the day". For example, friendly AI concept: they argue that everything depends on how well basics of AI will be programmed, making him to "love" humanity-and this will become AI nature. And so on, I'm not supporter of singularity so I do not feel obliged to defend it.
    But they key issue was adressed-Kurzweil et consortes seem to not understand what inteligence means (actually no one does for sure), what AI is and what human brain does. Personally I think that brain is NOT designed to be inteligent, it fullfills numerous functions which are unnecessary to perform taks commonly connected to inteligence. That's why Turing test is such a failure when it comes to judging wheather something/somebody is inteligent in our human way or not. Kurzweil admits, that Turing test is ultimately a performance test (finally he spotted that) not inteligence test, but he seems unable to comprehend what does it mean: that machine can be better than our brain, exceed its capabilities milions of times (all of them) and it will still be as thoughtless as bag of mud. I beleive, that to some degree singularity will be achieved-but it will be something quite different from what Kurzweil would like to see-with immortality, mind uploading, AI and so on (he is fixated on that, did you noticed that every time when his new book appears, the schedule leading towards Singularity is much shorter, therefore it deactualizes sooner?). When you realize, that machine remains machine and though it can easily do whatever you do it is still stupid as rock (but it is more inteligent than whole humanity together), suddenly world becomes much more weirder than previoulsy. If that indeed is true, then AI would simply mean a machine, tool, which can present equal of higher perfromance in inteligence than our brain is capable of. And thats all. No brothers and sisters of mankind, no childrens of our mind. Just artifical inteligence. A brilliant idiot. Retarded genius. A usefull servant. Or dangerous set of instructions. And that's all.

    I have to say, I completely disagree with your opinion. But I enjoy debate on this subject, so let us begin. First topic - doomed biology and limited intelligence. These are simple enough concepts; I’m surprised you have trouble figuring out what they are based on. They are based on facts.
    Doomed biology – we die. Our bodies and minds decay as we age, inevitably (so far), leading to death (aka, doom). Limited intelligence – our brains can only hold so much information. I’m don’t claim to understand exactly how intelligence works, since no one knows at this point, but it is obvious that it is based in our brains. I hope you are not pushing the spiritual/religious view that the essence of who we are resides outside of our brains, as in a soul. If that is the case, their would be no point carrying on an intellectual conversation. But I digress. Since everything about who we are, including intelligence, is contained within our brains, we are limited unless we can increase their storage density or their size.

    You claim to find transhumanists lacking in understanding of what it means to be human. I find anyone who believes they can define what it means to be human and attempt to impose their belief on others to be an arrogant fool.

    You go on to claim that Kurzweil can’t distinguish between intelligence versus data storage. Since we’ve already established that you haven’t discovered what intelligence is, who are you to say that the two aren’t treated the same in the brain? The brain is made up of patterns of brain cells. Since we’ve already established that intelligence is contained within the brain, just as our memories (data storage) are, it seems far more likely that Kurzweil is right – there is no distinction, and once again, you are the one that is confused.

    That being said, how is treating learning as the downloading of information foolishness? If I learn French, or some physical skill, the pattern of my brain cells change, creating memory (data storage). If the objective of the information is not simply to memorize information, but to reflect upon it? I fail to see how that would not happen, as anyone who was interested in the information in the first place is going to reflect upon it after they have read it. All downloading would do is increases the rate of data absorption. If I am a quick reader, am I missing out on something that slower readers are experiencing? Of course not. If I read a book slower it is not going to change the opinion I have of it, it is just going to take up more of my time.

    Then we reach the subject of “remembering”. Yes, it is true that computers at the moment do not “remember” facts in the same way as we do. Kurzweil, by the way, is not at all suggesting that they do. To anyone that actually read his book, and doesn’t just quote specific phrases to suit their arguments, it is clear he is talking about their far greater capacity for information storage and speed of retrieval.

    You then go on to claim that creating machine intelligence through reverse engineering the brain is “abuse of technology”, and “simply suggests that the brain is viewed as a piece of hardware without regard for anything it actually contains.” Once again, it seems that you have run into a concept that you do not understand. If a brain is completely reverse engineered, it means that either a virtual or synthetic copy of the exact pattern of a human brain has been created. Obviously, some sort of interface would have to be in place as well, but I would think that easy in comparison to the rest of the endeavor. Regardless of which method is used, if the exact pattern of the biological material of the brain were mapped and duplicated, how could that not create machine intelligence. What are you suggesting we would miss? Once again it sounds like you are pushing your religious “soul” belief, without coming right out and saying it.

    And now to discuss your final collection of arguments. Reliability in software is not absolute, that is true. For that matter, neither is the reliability of our physical bodies. But once “trading in” our biological bodies offers more positives than negatives, the fact that it isn’t perfect won’t stop people from taking advantage of it. Your statement about sending your kid to school when you can simply give them knowledge is true, why would you? They could simply spend more time socializing, trying new things, playing sports,
    having fun- you know, the best parts of being a kid. Why would they miss school? Finally, right at the end of the article, you come across a truly legitimate concern – the idea of brain hacking. Unfortunately, you spend no time on this whatsoever and then end everything off with a very cynical and lame joke. Come on man, you can do better than this. There is nothing wrong with having an opinion, but next time, back it up with some facts!

    Gerhard Adam
    Sorry, but the concept of "doomed biology" and "limited intelligence" is simply a distraction if you don't actually have any information or concepts of how this would or should be changed.  The problem with the transhumanist argument is that the complete lack of understanding in terms of biology and intelligence is simply glossed over as something that will be solved by someone out there, so we won't worry about it.

    That's the basis for saying that there is a fundamental lack of understanding in what it means to be human.  You cannot propose improving something that you don't understand at any level. 

    It is utterly simplistic to consider death as being arbitrarily bad without a significant explanation of what proposed changes would be necessary in society and the effect it would actually have on people.  Immortality could be infinitely worse, but it's not even considered from that perspective.

    Similarly with augmented intelligence, there isn't the slightest idea of what intelligence is or why more of it would be desirable, but ready to assume that it must be a good thing.  The reality is that the majority of problems we currently have deal more with beliefs and politics and very little to do with intelligence.   In addition, I think it's just silly to envision augmented intelligence as a more sophisticated version of an iPod. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    You seem to have a rather nasty habit of mistaking your personal lack of understanding as some kind of global black hole in knowledge.

    First of all, Biology IS quite literally an engineering problem. The beauty of evolution is that we already know the design parameters(environment) and the final purpose of the machines(reproduction). ALL biological processes are mechanical when viewed from a local level. The circalatory system is a series of pumps, processes at a cellular level typically utilize simple shaped gates with corresponding traffic, dna/rna is manipulated via folding. I could list examples down to the subatomic level. We are already capable of manipulating organic and non organic matter at the same local level of a plethora of biomechanical processes.and the techniques involved are getting more sophisticated by the day.

    Second of all, we DO have a working defintion of intelligence, Intelligence is the ability to recognize and manipulate data from the environment in order to acomplish a goal. Some definitions require some modicum of awareness of the "thought" process but we could allow for "dumb" intelligence like simple instinct as well. The only thing missing from current AI seems to be awareness. Luckily, we know this problem is not insurmountable since this engineering problem has already been solved by bio-mechanical machines(higher mammals). Now, lets assume for the moment that intelligence is too difficult conceptually to be understood by humans. This would be a worse case scenario but again not insurmountable. A real-time-high -resolution mapping of a healthy human brain recreated from a silicon(or any other suitable material) substrate would be able to emulate all of the intellectual capabilities of a human being at HIGHER speeds. Then we could simply treat it as yet another simple engineering problem and improve it until it is capable of solving the problem on it's own.

    Now a true AI could be kept in check through many means. We could give it a strict protocol to obey us; complete with self-terminating fail-safes in the event that it tries to access certain parts of its own code.

    You seem to throw around the word simplistic a lot .Which is humorous, since you display a lack of perspective yourself. You, declare that not only are all of societies problems political/philosophical in nature but that this removes them from the domain of technology.

    Now, you did have a good point about the social consequences of solving death but that lies in the domain of politics/philosophy and in no way makes a singularity impossible.

    I realize this post was long so I'll recap to make it simpler ;).
    Biology=engineering problem
    intelligence=definable
    Intelligence=backwards engineer able
    Social problems!=technological issues underlying a problem are unsolvable.
    Social problems!=out of technologies hands
    and most importantly
    your own lack of knowledge/perspective/vision!=Limitation human progress ;)

    Gerhard Adam
    I could list examples down to the subatomic level.
    ... and that's all you could do.  There isn't a single system that you could replicate.  Declaring biology an engineering problem doesn't provide any insight, and if you can't actually do any of the things biology is capable of, then it isn't much of an engineering explanation.
    Intelligence is the ability to recognize and manipulate data from the environment in order to acomplish a goal.
    What does that even mean?  Using that criteria is could apply equally to ants and humans.
    Now a true AI could be kept in check through many means. We could give it a strict protocol to obey us;...
    Not if it was a true AI.  On the one hand you want it to be intelligent, but on the other you think you can control it with a simple protocol as a machine.  If intelligence can be regulated by something as specific as a protocol, then it isn't intelligent.
    You, declare that not only are all of societies problems political/philosophical in nature but that this removes them from the domain of technology.
    Well, when the purpose of the technology is to "solve problems" you can't very well argue that those are out of technology's hands because they're political and philosophical.  After all, what problem is it that's being solved?  When a technology is being proposed that may turn all of human existence upside down, you can't simply hide behind the "it's out of our hands" argument.  There's either a good reason to pursue it, or there isn't.  Technology for it's own sake simply isn't an option.
    Mundus vult decipi